How A Hard Cap Saves The NBA
Just when it sounded like cooler heads might prevail and we might actually get this lock-out thing over with this week, the NBA owners took a step back in negotiations yesterday. Now a hard salary cap is back on the table, which the players quickly stepped away from.
For those of you who care more about the game than the business of the NBA (a group that usually includes Yours Truly), here’s what we’re talking about. Last season the NBA salary cap was set right around $58 million. Sounds like a lot of money, but when you consider that there was no penalty for spending more until you hit roughly the $70 million figure (the luxury tax threshold), things start to get stupid. Teams who spend more than the luxury tax pay a dollar-for-dollar tax to the league, which splits the proceeds up amongst the teams who were not over the cap.
What this has done is – in a nutshell – create a class system in the NBA. The rich teams who play in major media markets or have owners who will spend any amount of money to win are consistently among the ranks of contenders, while the teams that follow the rules are generally known as the lottery teams. Sure, there are exceptions, like the Oklahoma City Thunder, but let’s see what their cap looks like when Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, Serge Ibaka and company come off of their very affordable rookie deals. The rest of the time we’re talking about teams like the Los Angeles Lakers, Dallas Mavericks, Orlando Magic, Miami HEAT, Boston Celtics, Chicago Bulls and San Antonio Spurs – teams who treat that $58 million number as if it doesn’t exist.
That brings us back around to the question of why a hard cap is good for the NBA and good for the vast majority of its teams. First and foremost, it puts teams like the Milwaukee Bucks, Indiana Pacers, Minnesota Timberwolves, and the 19 other teams who lost money last season back on an even footing with the Mavericks, Lakers and Spurs. Not that it isn’t fun watching the Lakers buy the best team in basketball year after year, but wouldn’t it be nice to see the rest of the teams get some postseason love?
I don’t think I was the only one who was happy to see newcomers like the Memphis Grizzlies and Oklahoma City Thunder in the NBA’s Final Four last year. It’s nice to have some new blood once in a while.
That’s what the hard cap is all about. It’s about allowing the Indiana Pacers, who have to sell out four home games to get the same revenue the Lakers get from one home game, to compete on an even playing field with LA.
Whether or not you’re a fan of the Lakers, Pacers, or any other team, that has to be a good thing. It’s good for the game, it’s good for the teams, and it’s great for fans. It will take a major restructuring of almost every team’s salary base to make a hard cap happen, but in this reporter’s opinion it would be well worth the work. What’s more, if every team lived under the salary cap every team in the NBA would be wildly profitable . . .and there would never be another lockout